The color of cats is a fascinating subject. Some breeds have a wide range of colors, while other breeds have just one or two color variations. What color a cat is depends on its DNA as there are genes that are specifically for determining the coat color. They may have parents of different colors and which of these colors the cat will become is usually dependent on whether the genes passed on are dominant or recessive. This is a subject that while interesting, is often confusing for people. A particular area of confusion often surrounds white and albino cats. While some people refer to all white cats as being albino, this is not the case.
An Overview of Albino Cats
An albino cat is not simply a white cat; it is a cat that is suffering from a genetic condition called albinism. On the other hand, a white cat becomes white if it is passed on the gene for white coloring as this is dominant over other colors. A cat is only affected by albinism if both its parents carry the genetic marker for albinism. This condition means that a cat has a complete lack of pigmentation. Not only does this mean that the cat has a coat that appears white, it also has a number of features that differentiate it from a cat that is simply a white cat.
The first of these features is their eyes. A cat with a white coat can have eyes of any color and may even have eyes of two different colors. This is not the case for an albino cat as their eyes will always be either pale blue or an unusual pinkish-blue. This limited spectrum of colors is a due to their lack of pigmentation. If the eyes appear pink, it is not actually the color of the eyes. The color illusion is created because an excess of light reflects off the blood vessels inside the eye.
Another difference is that an albino cat also has a lack of pigmentation in their skin. This is most obvious in areas such as their nose and ears. These appear to be a very pale pink. Just like the eyes, this is not their actual color but a trick of the light as the cat’s blood flow is reflected through the skin.
The Varying Degrees of Albinism
A true albino is extremely rare. However, there is a condition called partial albinism and this is much more common. There are certain breeds that are affected by this and they are distinctive because they usually have what is known as pointed coloration. This means that certain points on their body are darker in color, such as the ears, the nose, and the tail. One group of cats that are known for these features are the ‘Oriental’ family of cats. Breeds within this group include Tonkinese, Burmese, and Siamese. These breeds have gained their pointed coloration from their partial albino genetic heritage.
The reason for the lack of pigmentation in true albino cats is because they are unable to produce a substance called melanin that is responsible for the skin tone, eye color, and coat color of a cat. Melanin also helps the eyes to function properly, and an albino cat may have trouble with depth perception and have a sensitivity to light. Not only is direct sunlight harmful to their vision, prolonged exposure can also cause significant damage to their skin. Therefore, owners of an albino cat need to take steps to avoid them spending time in bright sunlight.
Myths Relating to Albino Cats and White Cats
Their coat color is the only real similarity between albino cats and white cats. However, because of this similarity, people often unfairly associate information about white cats with albino cats. For example, it is a complete myth that albino cats are deaf. This comes from the fact that white cats with blue eyes are often deaf or hearing impaired. This is not actually true of albino cats as they are not, strictly speaking, white. They simply have a lack of pigmentation in their coat. Also, the genes responsible for hearing and albinism are in no way linked. On the other hand, this does not mean that an albino cat cannot have a hearing impairment; it simply means that there is not a correlation between the two conditions.